Using External Flash with Sony Alpha Mirrorless Cameras
I made a pretty big scene about my switch from my old Canon DSLR favorites to Sony Alpha mirrorless cameras. You can read more about this in this post. But the main reasons were for cutting down on size & weight – and I also gained a myriad of other advantages as well.
It should go without saying that while gaining advantages in one area, you’re going to have some disadvantages in another.
If you use an external flash at all for anything other than what a little pop-up flash would do, you’re kind of screwed. When Sony unveiled their lineup of professional mirrorless camera systems, there weren’t a lot of accessories to go with them. A few lenses and flash units accompanied the cameras, but there were no other accessories like remotes or flash cables. One of the big reasons for this was Sony’s proprietary Multi-Interface hotshoe, different from any other standard Canon or Sony shoe.
Get the flash off the camera!
Perhaps the number one rule of flash photography is to get the flash off of the camera. And if you switched to Sony mirrorless cameras from any other system, none of your flash equipment will work without special adapters, if at all.
So let’s look at our options to get that flash off the camera with Sony Alpha cameras.
External Flash with Through-The-Lens Metering (TTL)
Unfortunately, your old equipment won’t get you TTL with Sony’s MI shoe. You’ll need to buy new equipment for this feature.
Sony Brand External Flashes
Sony’s external flash units, like other brands, have wireless capability. They come at Sony’s price, and you’ll need a minimum of two for off-camera functionality (a master on-camera & slave off-camera). I started out with two Sony flash units but quickly realized my budget would run away if I kept using this equipment. They’re great external flashes though, with easy controls, durable construction, and the “quick shift bounce” feature that allows more head movement than any other flash.
Infrared triggering has many limitations, such as line-of-sight, range, and sunlight interference. So Sony will be releasing a radio-controlled flash, the HVL-F45RM, in May 2017.
To combat the infrared limitations in the meantime, Sony released their radio commander and radio receiver units, almost as expensive as the flashes themselves at $548 for the pair.
There are some third party companies that invested in TTL functionality to work with Sony’s MI shoe. You may see some of these flashes advertised as Godox, Flashpoint, and Neewer. They are, however, the same flash unit but with different branding.
These external flashes get the job done just as well, but aren’t constructed as robust as Sony’s flashes. This may be advantageous if your flashes sit in the safety of the studio all day. Or, if you’re like me and abuse your gear, I’d actually rather replace a cheap flash three times than an expensive flash once.
In addition to TTL functionality, they’re also capable of HSS, 1st & 2nd curtain sync, multi-flash, zoom, and multi-group ratio controls with FEC.
They also have the radio receiver built-in, eliminating the need for a separate receiver.
The Godox TT685S, with a guide number of 60, is available on Amazon with the XT1-S radio trigger for $156. The comparable Sony HVL-F60M, without trigger, retails for $548. Which one would you rather break?
External Flash with Manual Mode Only
Manual flash used to scare me more than anything else in the world. But once I learned how to shoot in Manual, I acknowledged that I probably like this mode more than TTL. And not because it’s cheaper!
Adapters for Sony Multi-Interface Shoe
There are a few adapters that will work with different hotshoe configurations, and this is by far the cheapest option if you already have a selection of flashes, cables, and triggers.
Just realize that the flashes that gave you TTL functionality with your Canon or Nikon cameras will only work in Manual mode now.
If you have older Sony autolock external flashes, the Sony ADPAMA adapter is your best bet; you can find this on Amazon for under $20.
If you have Canon, Nikon, or Yongnuo flashes, you can use the Pixel TF-334 hotshoe adapter, retailing for around $10.
Third-Party External Manual Flashes for Sony Alphas
This is the option I eventually settled on.
Check it out – for the price of one HVL-F60M Sony TTL flash you can buy seven Godox TT600S manual flashes & trigger; both have a guide number of 60. They both can do HSS, 1st & 2nd curtain sync, multi-strobe, multiple groups with ratios, and so on, but the Godox doesn’t have TTL. Think of all the lighting setups you could do with seven versus one! And again, these have the radio receiver built-in.
The Godox X1T-S radio trigger retails at $46, compared to Sony’s radio commander & receiver combo at $548. Yeesh…
Are these flashes constructed the same as Sony’s? No, but they’re all you need in a manual flash. And I wouldn’t feel guilty at all breaking a $70 Godox flash. A $500 Sony flash though? Yeah that’d break my heart!
And I did break a Godox flash recently. My light stand fell over and the plastic shoe mount broke off of the flash. Might have happened with the Sony flash too; I’m not about to test that. But the flash still works just fine, I just can’t lock it into any kind of mount. I can get creative with other mounting options.
At first I bought a kit with one Godox TT600S flash and one X1T-S trigger for $115. I was very pleased with the functionality of this equipment after a few shoots and eventually bought a few more TT600 flash units. They’ve served me well so far with no complaints.